Cost of Gridlock: Canadians say they’d trade more work for shorter commute
Gridlock has become so brutal, especially in the big cities, that Canadians are putting reasonable commute time as a priority when job hunting.
“People are no longer prepared do those long, long commutes,” said Andrew McAllan, senior vice-president and managing director for real estate at Oxford Properties.
McAllan knows first-hand just how much attitudes have changed. He commutes from his Oakville home, sometimes by GO train to his downtown office, but other days by car, especially if he has meetings at other Oxford locations across the GTA.
In the old days, people would happily settle down, buy a house in the suburbs, with the commute as an acceptable part of the overall package. But McAllan, who has four children aged 20 to 30, said the younger generation simply isn’t willing to spend hours getting to work.
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His son switched apartments to ensure he only has a seven-minute walk to work.
“It’s an evolution that has happened, and people are more conscious, in their words, of not wasting time commuting,” McAllan said. “That explains the new condos that have been built in Toronto in the last 10 years.”
In June, Oxford Properties commissioned the Future of Work survey of more than 2,000 Canadian office workers, conducted online by Environics Research Group.
About three-quarters of respondents said they wanted a reasonable commute to the office — with the sweet spot being about 30 minutes one-way.
Half said commuting time would be the top factor in choosing one employer over another, if all else were the same, such as pay, benefits, vacation.
The survey found the average commute nationally was 29 minutes one-way. In Atlantic Canada, 90 per cent of workers had a commute of 30 minutes or less, while only six in 10 Ontario respondents report getting to work in the same time frame.
The average commute time reported in Toronto was 42 minutes, compared with 27 minutes in Calgary, 29 minutes in Ottawa, 33 minutes in Vancouver and 36 minutes in Montreal.
But McAllan pointed out that average means some people might walk five minutes to the office, while others could be in their cars or on public transit for hours.
One surprising finding was that one-third of those surveyed said they would be prepared to work an extra three hours a week if they had a reasonable commute.
“When people are working, they feel productive. They are progressing in their personal development and careers,” McAllan said. “When they are stuck in traffic, sitting on a bus or streetcar, or a GO train, they are just wasting time.”
Even though it may seem counter-intuitive to work more if the commute is shorter, McAllan said younger people feel the investment will pay off, because “you’re giving it to your career.”
Oxford Properties is in the midst of building four office buildings in downtown spots Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. In Toronto, Oxford is building RBC’s new offices at 88 Queens Quay W. and EY’s building at 100 Adelaide St. W.
Construction in the downtown core reflects increasing demand from employers who want to set up shop in a convenient location to draw employees who want an easy commute.
Similarly, those potential workers aren’t interested in a reverse commute out of the city.
Another factor in the demand is that the traditional office remains intact, and hasn’t become obsolete even with the advent of technology.
According to the survey, the average respondent reported only working 1.8 days from home a month.
“People want to collaborate,” said McAllan, pointing to Yahoo chief executive officer Marissa Mayer’s decision to order staff to return to the office or quit. “We’re social animals. We like the interaction. It drives productivity.”
According to news reports, human resources chief Jackie Reses told staff in a leaked February memo that everyone must work in a Yahoo office.
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side,” Reses wrote. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”